Davin braced against the flurry of snow that always struck when he exited the pit. At least the wind blew the smoke away.
Henrich called after him, “It’s not worth it! It’s one goat!”
Davin turned back, “I have to try!” And with that, he dashed into the storm. He watched the ground, looking for whatever tracks remained. They should have counted the herd when they got back, but no, they decided to wait until they got back down to the pens at the floor of the pit.
It was Grinhorn again. It had to be. Only that goat was stubborn enough to get lost in a blizzard. All the others wanted to get back to the pens, but not him. He always had to have one last bite of whatever he could find under the snow.
Davin called out, but the wind whipped his voice away. He lowered his goggles and brought up the heat filter. It didn’t help. The flakes pouring out of the sky would obscure just about anything that didn’t have a beacon on it. As he had done more than once, he wished they could afford beacons for each goat.
The young man followed the tracks of the herd as far back as he could, but within fifty paces the wind and snow had hidden all trace of their passage.
All right. They’d headed north today. If he kept walking this way, he should find where they’d been. It had been snowing so gently this morning. They’d figured some moss might have grown. Enough for the goats, at least. Something to feed them. They’d found a pasture between drift dunes, a spot of bare ground where large patches of moss had found purchase. The goats had feasted.
But now Grinhorn had stayed behind. Dumb goat.
Of course in the sudden wind, the dunes could have shifted tremendously. The entire landscape would be different.
Davin waded through fresh snowfall, scanning as best he could. The heat filter remained on, but that didn’t mean much.
Wait! There! Was that a flicker, or a glitch in the goggles? They were old enough, he couldn’t trust every image they fed him.
No, he had to find out.
Davin tripped through the snow, leaning into the wind. There. It wasn’t a glitch. There was something warm out there.
Grinhorn, shivering in the night, bleating for help.
Davin fell over himself to get to the helpless animal. He reached out and hugged the beast by the neck. The heat filter showed the animal was dangerously close to freezing.
He took off his outter coat and wrapped it around the beast’s torso. He called it by name and guided it back, back toward the Pits. He set his beacon for home and trudged through drifts, pulling the goat.
Davin lost feeling in his arms before his fingers. The gloves were good. He still had those on. His coat, though, his warmest layer, went to Grinhorn. The stupid animal.
It started hurting to breathe. He gritted his teeth together.
Grinhorn bleated and fell over in a poof of snow.
Davin rushed back. He stripped off his hood and hat and put his ear against the beast’s flank. No, it was still alive. For now.
He grunted. He roared. He lifted Grinhorn on his shoulders. He stumbled into the dark.
He gasped. One step. Two. Three. Keep going. Keep going.
Davin stumbled, tripped, kept himself from falling. He had to get Grinhorn home. It was his duty. Every goat. Every member of the herd. They trusted him to take care of the herd.
Strong arms caught him. “Davin, you fool!” Something hit him on the back of the head. Henrich laughed. “No goat is worth that much! Come on, before you freeze to death!”
“I’m a good shepherd,” Davin forced out. “I take care of my herd.”
“Yeah, well, you’re ten steps from the edge of the pit. Let’s get down to some warmth!”
And so Davin returned with the goat who had wandered. Both were safe.
Grinhorn never again left his shepherd’s side.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, At the Emporium, here.
Read the next story, Barras Abandoned, here.